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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

quilts, teapots, and living day by day

wedding quilt the author's

wedding quilt
the author’s

As I often do when I’m worried or beset by whatever, I cleaned out a closet the other day. And rediscovered things I’d forgotten: a quilt my mother made me when I married; a quilt my sister quilted from a quilt top my grandmother made. And because my household is a place of some fragility these days, I took them out — remembering my mother and her love of quilting; my grandmother and her love of piecing quilt tops (she cared a LOT less for quilting them!).  Now my younger sister sews, quilts, and knits. She is at least the fourth in a line from my great-grandmother on.

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Today, thinking of those women (and my reacquaintance with how ephemeral life can be…), I changed bed linens. Substituting my mother’s red, white, & sky blue the colour of robins’ eggs quilt for a white crocheted throw, like a ribbon across the white duvet in the guest room. My mother felt very close.

In the studio, where I have all my beading & paper crafting stored & strewn, I laid the crazy quilt my grandmother pieced over the daybed. When my sister quilted it, she bound the edges w/ a tiny elephant print. My mother loved elephants — once my father had one trucked to the apartment where we lived for her birthday, a tiny baby of an elephant, long-lashed & utterly adorable. It was the best of birthday antics — she laughed & cried, charmed. And I remembered how I am only the latest bead in a necklace of women. My mother, her mother, her mother before her.

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crazy quilt the author's

crazy quilt
the author’s

That quilt bears pieces from everyday life: each scrap a shirt, a dress, a blouse. Maybe a curtain that once hung from the window of Great-Grandma’s house in a small town an hour away from 4 of her 5 daughters. It bears witness to every day of lives lived a hundred years ago, at least in places.

I also made tea in my favourite teapot — one given me years ago by women I haven’t seen in 25 years. Wreathed in cottage flowers, it sat happily on a silk brocade placemat I only use rarely; it’s ‘too nice’ for everyday use. And I brewed a pot of the Sunday tea — a pricey China black I can’t justify too often.

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Here’s where this is going: life is not stone. It doesn’t last. It can blink out like a candle in a sudden gust. What good are our things — these precious pieces that are the traces of happy times, family, places long behind us — if we don’t see them? Use them? Let their very presence remind us of all that they embody…?

I’m going to keep on using up my things. Taking out the linens we bought in Hong Kong before my younger son was born. Making a tea cosy out of my mother’s Army/Navy tablecloth; the one w/ a big hole in the middle. It’s older than I am, and links me to a mother who won dance contests BK (before kids). Life seems very fragile — even ephemeral — to me these days. So I’m surrounding myself w/ all I’ve been to help go wherever it is I’m going to end up. And I shall drink from a china teapot, insulated from the chill March breeze by a tea cosy made from my mother’s past. Watch my rescue cats lounge on handmade quilts stitched in every seam with love. And it will all be okay.

 

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a shadow of the past

via flickr

via flickr

I’ve looked everywhere to find the photographer/ artist who made this picture. It would be wonderful to thank him/her, because I love it. And I live it, although I’m not quite as old as the woman in the picture. But I’m certainly not as young as the dancer, either!

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I once asked my grandmother, who must have been in her 70s then, what it felt like to be old (the 70s seem much younger than they used to!). She thought for a moment, & responded: Well, honey, I look in the mirror and think: who is that old woman?? Inside, I’m still the same.

My mother-in-law was the same, and my mother even more so. Until Alzheimer’s claimed my mother, she was the first to dance, the first to sing, the first to riotously happy. No alcohol needed.

I almost never dance anymore, although once it was a huge part of my life. As a teen I even danced w/ a local dance troupe — pop dance, not ballet, although I took ballet into my awkwardest of years: post-babies. When I signed up as adult w/ my 5-year-old son, I received ‘most improved’ at the end of the session. Along w/ comments like, I’ve never seen a grand jété done quite like that… I didn’t care. I loved dancing.

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I danced w/ my beloved at embassy parties, at cocktail parties, at picnics and dinners and Hallowe’en galas. His best friend often partnered me, throwing the much-slighter me of years ago into the air, and then catching me in a graceful arc.

Now, running has taken its toll on my knees, I’ve had a joint replacement, and I don’t dance. Except like this — inside, with the same fervour I always had.

Beginner’s heart is like that, I think: an inside dance that may not be at all apparent to anyone else. One that transforms us on the inside. But it casts shadows. Dancing, light-hearted shadows. And they’re beautiful, like blithe dancers…

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foundations, serendipity, and amaryllis

the author's

the author’s

I never intended to know a boatload about amaryllis. Nor did I anticipate I would become a refugee camp for them: taking them in after holidays, nurturing them to health, then finding homes for them. Even w/ all the many I’ve given, I still have one HUGE pot of several mixed together, and a only-slightly-smaller one with 2 in it.

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Here you see the remnants of the scarlet, which began blooming in February (and is still flowering its blood-red heart out!), and the soft pink striped, which is one of my favourites. The red are perfect when they come around Valentine’s Day — exuberant and insistent that life continues. The pink remind me that life isn’t always exuberant, but it’s always beautiful.

My amaryllis have even set seed. They’re that happy. :) I planted several of the seeds around the perimeter of the biggest pot, and they’re growing! It was probably about 3+ years ago when I slipped them beneath the natural mulch made of old leaves, and the pecan hulls I cover most of my potted plants with. Who even knew potted amaryllis could set seed? (Apparently most folks work at it.)

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amaryllis seedlings

They won’t blossom for a few more years, the experts say. But then, who knows? The experts didn’t think I could just tuck them into the dirt and get these hearty small plants, probably, either.

When the first seedpods that bore seed appeared, I was almost certainly out of town, or I would have cut them when I deadheaded the amaryllis. But once I saw the seed pods, it was unmistakeable that they held maturing seed. They look as pregnant as someone having quintuplets!

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the author's

the author’s

So here’s my point, and yes, it does have to do w/ beginner’s heart. ;) You lay down good foundations: taking good care of the plants (or skills, or traits, or practices…) that you have. You just keep doing it, not realising you’re laying down a foundation. And then the serendipity comes in: something new happens, and you really look at it. It may indeed be ‘luck,’ but if you aren’t paying attention? You won’t notice it. And if you haven’t laid down strong foundations? It can’t happen.

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Habits become foundations. I don’t forget to water or feed my plants, partly because I love them (yup, I do), partly because I’m responsible for them.  And that’s day after day after week after month after years of habits. A foundation, in other words, of good plant husbandry.

I’m trying to lay down a similarly strong foundation in so much harder areas: not yelling at the newest bone-headed thing my state does. Not forgetting to breathe when I hear of tragedy brought on by hate. Meditating, writing more… The list of habits I would like to become foundational is long!

Still, when the amaryllis bloom just when I need them most? In the midst of a dreary grey day, when my beloved is struggling? It’s the unforeseen fruit of that foundation. Unanticipated as I watered the withering stalks, and all the more precious.

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names and milestones

Via wikimedia

Via wikimedia

Years have names, although we usually don’t think of them that way. And this will be the year of my beloved’s ill health.

Something there is in us that feels helpless when the people we love are hurting. And double pneumonia is pretty painful. Sitting here in the hospital, I am grateful fo quiet breathing, for lack of pain. It brings home what Buddhis teaches: it’s all about the breath…

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Hence my absence from the blog for a few days. Lots of time to think, but not much for writing. Watching a loved one suffer is – at least for me – a perfect exercise in beginnver’s heart. This year of two knee operations, a shattered ankle, and now double pneumonia has demonstrated over & over that tonglen -the breathing to lessen the pain of others – is often all we can do. And it’s not only HARD, it feels like so very little.

These are true milestones: they mark the curves, the thoroughfares, of our lives. Both the lives of those in physical pain, and those of us who watch. I can’t mend ankles, or heal lungs. I can only breathe, mindfully. With love. And hope. That small ember that lights darkness as we drive. Passing milestones. Breathing…

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